Once covered by dense temperate forest, the Patagonian desert is now a stark and windswept landscape covering 260,000 square miles in southern Argentina and Chile. Characterized by flat, grassy steppe and rocky foothills, it is the seventh-largest desert in the world and marked by seasonal lakes and streams. Little vegetation thrives in the Patagonian desert apart from several species of grass and shrub which are able to withstand the harsh conditions through a variety of evolutionary adaptations.
Growing to 40 inches in height, hierba negra (Mulinum spinosum) is a small herbaceous shrub endemic to the Patagonian desert of Chile. It presents a roughly spherical growth habit with an abundance of prickly, grayish-green foliage. The leaves are slender with a five-fingered shape marked by yellowish veins. In spring and early summer a crop of waxen red and chartreuse flowers appears which provide valuable forage for grazing animals.
Common throughout the Patagonian desert, mate negre (Junellia tridens) thrives under the cold, dry conditions of the region. Due to the strong winds and scant precipitation of its native habitat, mate negre seldom exceeds two feet in height and bears a profusion of tiny succulent leaves along its densely arranged and scraggly branches. Its unusual leaves provide an advantage in dealing with the region's climate by maintaining much-needed moisture close to its branches.
Palo amarillo (Berberis montana) thrives between 3,000 and 9,000 feet in altitude throughout the Patagonian desert from Chile to Argentina. Growing to 7 feet, palo amarillo is known for its springtime covering of brilliant, golden-yellow flowers and autumn crop of round blackish-purple edible fruit. Although it can withstand drought, palo amarillo prefers areas of high humidity with seasonal bouts of high heat.
An evergreen species, peppertree (Schinus latifolius) thrives in lowland coastal areas of the Patagonian desert. Best known for its late summer crop of small purplish berries, peppertree is identifiable by its leathery, crinkled leaves and dark coffee-colored bark. Growing to 32 feet high, it is a small species of tree with a spreading growth habit and squat, gnarled trunk.